‘It’s Unbelievable What You’ve Done for Us’

October 9, 2018 • United States

Volunteers from across the nation join forces in the Carolinas to help Hurricane Florence survivors with the massive task of cleanup and recovery.


When John Whitfield got word that a TV station in New Bern, N.C.—just one block from his home—was evacuating its staff because of flooding due to Hurricane Florence, he rushed over to investigate. John is a captain with the sheriff’s office in Craven County, and he knew immediately the implications for his neighborhood, where he and his mother lived next door to each other.

John and Love weathered the hurricane in Love's house where flood waters rose several feet.

John and Love weathered the hurricane in Love’s house where flood waters rose several feet.

With the water rising rapidly, John raced home. He told his mom and friends they had to leave quickly. John moved his cars to higher ground to facilitate a safe getaway, but then the water rushed into the neighborhood. Within 15 minutes it was three feet deep. Soon it was over five feet.

John and Love were trapped in their neighborhood. The roads were too flooded to escape the onslaught of Florence on New Bern, a city of 30,000 people.

“My mom and I hunkered down at her home for the night,” John said.

Rescuers Couldn’t Reach Them

As the water level reached two feet in the house—at 2 a.m.—John called a team of first responders. They dispatched a boat to try and rescue them, but the high winds and choppy waters flipped the boat, and the rescue had to be abandoned. “They did an awesome job of calling every hour to make sure we were all right,” John said.

Samaritan's Purse volunteers remove debris from the sodden crawl space under Love Whitfield's home.

Samaritan’s Purse volunteers remove debris from the sodden crawl space under Love’s home.

John and Love first sat on furniture to protect themselves, then placed boards atop sofas and tables to get even higher. John put his two dogs in the attic to keep them safe.

“It was so intense in the house with the rising water, we didn’t even notice the wind was blowing so hard outside,” Love said.

Finally, as a new day began to dawn, the water stopped rising and eventually started to recede. “By the next morning, most of the water had gone out of the house but it was still about two feet deep outside,” John explained.

When John had the chance to go next door and check on his own house, he found it just as damaged as that of his mom’s home.

Now they both faced the titanic challenge of cleanup. How would they tear out the waterlogged sheetrock, insulation, and flooring, or haul all the ruined furniture to the curb?

Volunteers from Florida and Indiana

The Craven County sheriff knew of John’s plight and contacted Samaritan’s Purse on his behalf. Our disaster relief units are deployed in three North Carolina cities—New Bern, Jacksonville, and Wilmington—as well as in Horry County, S.C.

A team including volunteers from Florida and Indiana showed up at Love’s house and began working. Once they finished there, they tackled John’s home.

Love Whitfield was delighted when volunteers gave her a Bible signed by the team after completing work on her house.

Love Whitfield was delighted when volunteers gave her a Bible signed by the team after completing work on her house.

“When it first started coming into the carport, it looked like a power hose was gushing,” said Love Whitfield, John’s mother. She had lived in the same house for 51 years and had never experienced such flooding before.

“My daughter and I have packed Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes ever since she was a little girl, but I was not familiar with the total extent of the relief work that Samaritan’s Purse did,” Love said. “All the shoeboxes we filled, I never thought that it would come back to us when we needed help, but this is wonderful. All these people we’ve never met and didn’t know have come, we’re so grateful.”

John echoed his mother’s gratitude. “It’s been such a blessing that you guys showed up,” he said. “It would have taken us three months to do what you did in two days in terms of demolition, ripping everything out, and getting rid of ruined stuff. It’s unbelievable what you’ve done for us. Thank you.”

As we do at the completion of every work order, our volunteers sign and present a Billy Graham Study Bible to each homeowner. Tears filled Love’s eyes and she choked back her emotions as she shared with the group: “I don’t know anything I’d rather have.”

Rick Cowley, pastor of Crossbridge Church in Madeira Beach, Fla., and leader of one of the volunteer teams that helped serve Love and John, said he never grows tired of witnessing a Bible presentation.

“I’ve probably done 25 to 30 mission trips—15 of these with Samaritan’s Purse—and Bible presentations are the highlight of the trip for us,” he said. “It’s a spiritual experience to see the Holy Spirit take the Word and light up peoples’ lives. What a privilege to serve here and be the hands and feet of Jesus in their lives.”